by Richard McKinstry
The bookplate, sometimes referred to as an ex-libris, denotes the
ownership of books, and they are customarily glued onto the inside
of a book's front cover. Many early bookplates featured a family
crest, but in more recent times, they have included just about any
illustrative design that strikes the fancy of a book owner; thus,
in addition to indicating ownership, they reveal something about
the individual they stand for. Like printed books themselves, the
earliest bookplates originated in Germany in the fifteenth century.
Over the years they have been made using such techniques as etching;
copper, wood, and steel engraving; lithography and chromolithography;
and just about any other printing process that allows for the duplication
of a single image. Surprisingly perhaps, there were more than 1,000
different bookplates used in America before 1800, the earliest likely
belonging to Steven Day, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, printer, and
dating from 1642.